Boom. One week into January 2016 and we already have something interesting that will make competitors take note. And it’s not from one of the big burger chains. Bruegger’s Bagels’ Winter Menu features a Breakfast Brisket sandwich that layers brisket, a fresh-cracked cooked egg, Muenster cheese, pickled onion and horseradish on an Everything bagel. That’s a lot of on-trend foods and flavors there that I don’t see elsewhere.
Also on that menu is a Twisted Brisket sandwich that’s on toasted jalapeňo cornbread rather than a bagel. Joining brisket on the sandwich are bacon, Muenster cheese and Dijonnaise sauce. This is going to be a year where consumers will spend their money cautiously; i.e. where innovation will count.
(2) The CEO of Sonic Drive-In is derisively dismissive of competitors’ new value menus. This is the same Sonic that introduced 2015’s most expensive burger-chain menu item: the $5.99 Ultimate Chicken Sandwich. While McDonald’s, Wendy’s and Burger King strive to offer meals that consumers with less disposable income can afford, Sonic is promoting a “Two Can Eat for $9.99” deal (a burger or hot dog with tots and a drink). On Tuesday CEO Cliff Hudson told analysts this LTO is “doing value in our way” and not “the approach to cheapness that some of our competitors focus on.” He added that Sonic seeks to be “affordable for everyday use” but not “by simply having cheap food every day.”
Sonic reported a 5.3% same-store sales increase during its fiscal 2016 Q1 ended Nov. 30, 2015. But 3% of that came from higher menu prices and the rest resulted from “positive product mix shift” to products such as the $5.99 chicken sandwich. Hudson said that customer traffic was negative for the quarter versus a year earlier.
(3) Later this year, KFC will introduce a new spicy product it calls Nashville Hot Chicken (below), but first it’s doing a sampling tour. The chain has outfitted a truck that will be passing out samples in Nashville Village, Ohio; Nashville Village, Mich.; Nashville, Ind.; Nashville, Ill.; Nashville Town, Wis.; Nashville Township, Minn.: Nashville City, Kan.; and Nashville Town, N.C.
(4) Johnny Rockets also has a new menu for winter. It includes a Portobello Chicken Sandwich and Texas BBQ Pulled Pork Cheeseburger. More interesting are JR’s entries in the new sides-as-entrees category. There’s Smoky Cheddar Pulled Pork Tots (reminiscent of Wendy’s Pulled Pork Cheese Fries) and Smoky Cheddar Bacon Tots. These super-sized sides have become important revenue sources for many QSR chains.
(5) Red Robin’s winning name for the new chicken sandwich on its higher-priced Finest burger line was announced a few days ago. I missed it then. In case you did as well, the sandwich (an all-natural 7-oz., fire-grilled chicken breast with arugula, fontina cheese, peppered bacon and oven-roasted tomato aioli on an artisan telera bun) has been dubbed the Marco Pollo. Julie Salato submitted the clever name.
Are we doing low-carb again? Red Robin’s other new entrée is the 450-calorie Wedgie Burger. The burger is topped with guacamole, bacon, tomato and red onion, all of which is nestled into a lettuce wedge instead of a bun.
(6) Finally there’s menu news from McDonald’s around the world. Let’s start in the USA where the chain has now put its Buttermilk Crispy Chicken in a biscuit on the breakfast menu in many markets (replacing the Southern-Style Chicken Biscuit, I’m guessing).
Since introducing the Maestro Classic burger in Sweden in September, McDonald’s has spread the brand across Europe. Now McDonald’s Belgium has introduced the Generous Jack burger, which it describes as “The first of the new range Maestro Burgers.” It has two beef patties, bacon, cheese, tomato, red onion, lettuce and a lemon-mayo sauce, all together on a brioche bun with flax and sesame seeds.
They love their Angus burgers in Australia. McDonald’s Summer Menu there includes two new builds: the Classic Angus (Angus beef, two slices of cheese, leaf lettuce, tomato, red onion rings, pickles, mustard and mayo on a chilli chive bun) and Aussie BBQ Angus (beef, bacon, cheese, beetroot, grilled onions, leaf lettuce, BBQ sauce and creamy aïoli on a chilli chive bun).
And in Austria, McDonald’s takes a page from the KFC playbook with a mini bucket that carries a wonderful name: the McDonald’s Schmankerl Mix (below). What’s inside? Fifteen Chicken McNuggets, 10 fried, heart-shaped Emmentaler cheese puffs and a choice of four sauces.